Workouts get smart, streamlined with tech-personalized routines

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When 55-year-old Connie Antoniou visits her fitness studio, the leg press knows her name.

Clients work out at The Exercise Coach in Houston, Texas, June 18, 2014, in this handout photo provided by The Exercise Coach on January 23, 2015. REUTERS/The Exercise Gym/Handout via Reuters

“The machines are programmed for my body so they take the guesswork out and I’m not worried I’ll injure myself,” said Antoniou, an Illinois realtor. “The traditional approach didn’t work for me. It just took too long.”

An increasing number of gyms are using high-tech exercise equipment that can prompt, respond and adapt to individuals in what fitness experts say may signal a future that frees clients from trying to gauge how fast, how hard or how long to work out.

Now her trainer at The Exercise Coach fitness studio punches a code into the fitness machine, her name pops up on a screen, and a session tailored to her personal goals and strengths begins.

Antoniou said because of the workout she is stronger and has improved her golf game with just two 20 minute sessions per week.

The Exercise Coach, a Chicago-based firm that has 30 franchises nationally, is among the gyms and fitness studios turning to responsive machines to improve workouts.

“The paradigm is shifting to workouts that are briefer, more challenging, more intense, and less frequent,” said Bryan Cygan, the founder and chief executive of The Exercise Coach.

He cited research published in the journal “Preventive Medicine” showing virtually all benefits of resistance training are likely to be obtained in two 15- to 20-minute training sessions a week.

“We take individual snapshots of customers and provide exercises that are appropriate to them,” he explained. “Then our software makes intelligent recommendations.”

The coach-led, circuit-style workouts cost up to $40 each and typically include leg curls, leg presses, multiple upper body exercises, and core work and elliptical trainers.

Ted Vickey, senior consultant on fitness technology for the American Council on Exercise, said the big box gyms are also exploring the benefits of responsive machines.

“The problem is that people aren’t exercising, period,” said Vickey, who is finishing a Ph.D. on the uses of technology in fitness. “I’m a fan of small steps.”

Vickey says wearable trackers are currently the most important fitness devices. He envisions a future in which fitness centers resemble fitness hubs, where clients with stored information can get professional recommendations.

“I like the fact that we can use that tech to make a change , but I want humans to make that change,” he said. “I don’t want equipment telling me what to do.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Steve Orlofsky